WASH banner

SXSW Review: WE ARE STILL HERE

WASHThere comes a time in every subgenre of horror, when as viewers, we’ve just seen it all. Slasher films lost their edge a few years into the ‘80s and the teenage whodunit horror films of the late ‘90s lost their appeal not long after making their mark. In the last few years, the haunted house horror film has seen its share of good films and more than its share of bad ones. As a viewer, I get it, house is haunted, figures appear, jump scare…end of story. It takes a special film and one that offers something different to the table to not only revive the interest of the horror viewer, but the subgenre as a whole. Thankfully, Ted Geoghegan’s WE ARE STILL HERE is not only that something different that the genre needs, but is also a wildly original and terrifyingly entertaining ride, sure to be the most memorable genre film of the year.

Bypassing the typical setup of young people messing with what they shouldn’t, WE ARE STILL HERE instead focuses on Anne and Paul Sacchetti (YOU’RE NEXT’s Barbara Crampton and UPSTREAM COLOR’s Andrew Sensenig), a middle aged couple who after losing their son in a car wreck, relocates to a new house in New England. While Paul is somewhat cold and distant about the loss, Anne instantly feels that not only is the spirit of her son still around, but is trying to communicate with her. It’s easy to get on board with the film, right from the beginning, with both Crampton and Sensenig’s performances giving a genuinely heartbroken tone to their characters. It’s easy to feel what they feel and want to take the journey with them, because their performances are so natural and believable, without feeling forced whatsoever. Anne and Paul are instantly welcomed into town by its residents, but there’s a sense of alienation among them, the town obvious has secrets and it’s that angle that pulls you as a viewer into the film even more than the setup of Anne thinking her son is speaking to her. The more the film goes on, Anne wants to believe that her son is still around, and you can really feel the pain living in the character, a testament to the absolutely wonderful and effective performance by genre queen Barbara Crampton. It’s been great to see her back in horror after taking a break from acting, but with her role in YOU’RE NEXT and now WE ARE STILL HERE, it’s obvious that she definitely still has what it takes to give one hell of a performance.

Putting us viewers right in the middle of a mystery and not giving us all of the answers is just one of the many elements of WE ARE STILL HERE that really makes it such a standout film, feeling closer to the tone of ‘70s horror than the quick cut, ADHD horror that today’s viewers are fed on a regular basis. Geoghegan’s direction (he also wrote the film) shows a subtleness to the film, focusing more on story and character development than just on jumpscares and effects, and that approach gives the feeling of a cross between Fulci’s THE BEYOND and Robin Hardy’s THE WICKER MAN. Nothing is what it seems in the town, the residents are all hiding something, and the house itself…well, what Anne and Paul soon discover, is that not only are there spirits there, but ones that want their lives, to fulfill a curse that demands a family every 30 years. It’s such a wild concept, one that really feels like a completely unique experience, unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The film would work on many levels just by focusing on the house and its past alone, but putting the odd, malicious and scary feeling to the town’s residents into the mix just makes that much more layered, giving a story that is rich with background, without overloading its viewer.

When Anne invites May and Jacob Lewis, two friends who are into the supernatural, to the house, we’re given not two characters to focus on, but four, and Geoghegan utilizes those four characters into crafting one hell of a story, one that feels like a love letter to the horror films of the 1970’s, without ever feeling ironic or forced. Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden give two great performances as May and Jacob, with Fessenden providing one of the scariest scenes in the entire film. When all hell breaks loose, it becomes a pulse-racing time, one filled with some of the scariest ghosts in a LONG time.

WE ARE STILL HERE is easily one of the most original horror films of the last ten years, giving a mystery full of tension, scares and enough character development to make you genuinely upset when they’re put in danger (the look of the spirits is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and will be impossible to forget). It’s a well written, hauntingly eerie supernatural horror film that leaves it mark on you for days after seeing it. If this debut from Geoghegan is any indication of the writer/director’s storytelling ability, then color me excited to see what he has up his sleeve next.